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5 qualities that make a great laboratory planner

During my career as head of an analytical lab, I was fortunate to oversee the work of some top-class lab planners. Back then they were planning their lab schedules manually, whereas today, I spend my time highlighting the undeniable benefits of AI-enhanced, automated scheduling; but , however the lab schedule is created, the key characteristics […]

During my career as head of an analytical lab, I was fortunate to oversee the work of some top-class lab planners. Back then they were planning their lab schedules manually, whereas today, I spend my time highlighting the undeniable benefits of AI-enhanced, automated scheduling; but , however the lab schedule is created, the key characteristics that make a great planner haven’t changed and I’d like to share these with you:

Quality #1: Awareness

Lab planning is about more than just time management – a truly great planner needs to have their finger on the pulse of the lab. That means being aware of each step of the lab testing process, from reception to release, both in terms of what needs to happen but also why. Understanding the necessary testing activities within the broader goals of the overall service is crucial:

  • It gives the planner a holistic, top-down view of their planning ecosystem
  • Pre-requisite to effectively connect the dots and organize a complex schedule with lots of moving parts
  • Understand the robustness of the test method and how to anticipate first-time-right aspects when setting up the planning constraints, business rules or making the schedule.

Quality #2: Lab or Planning Experience

If you’ve never seen the inside of a lab or you have no experience as an operations planner, you might have a long way to go. Experience in at least one of these areas is needed to be successful as a planner.

Experienced planners will have critical insights into:

  • The right level of detail to include in an effective plan
  • How to use tools to generate a realistic and optimal lab schedule

On the other hand, experienced lab folk will immediately understand:

  • Each test method step and sequence
  • Relevant lead times and workloads to expect
  • Master data and business rules

Nevertheless, a new lab planner from either background will still need some time to dive into the details of the processes with which they are less familiar, so I do believe that coaching new planners is really helpful, irrespective of their previous experience.

Quality #3: Sociability

Planners are part of the glue that holds together an effective and smooth-running laboratory, so they need the relevant social skills and a positive mindset to be on good terms with the whole team. As someone in a position of authority, having direct lab and/or planning experience and being visible in the laboratory will only help to cement a sense of mutual respect but natural social skills are also critical: if they can congenially approach colleagues to direct last-minute changes without initiating a cascade of negativity across the shop floor, there will be:

  • Less push-back
  • Fewer complaints
  • More readiness to comply with the updated schedule
  • Ultimately leading to a higher retention rate & productive analysts

Quality #4: Resilience

No one said this job was easy! The lab planner’s role exists at an intersection of responsibilities, so they need the inner strength to withstand a great deal of push and pull.

  • If work is delivered late, they have to be prepared to assume the responsibility to deliver the message
  • If some priorities require management sign-off, the planner needs the confidence to make those urgent requests – and persist, even if their boss’ calendar is blocked out with back-to-back meetings

Quality #5: Pragmatism

It’s a given that planners need to be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances. Still, it’s also imperative that they act practically and make the most of the tools available to them.

  • Sometimes it is necessary to prioritize pragmatic solutions to immediate problems
  • Follow the old adage to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”
  • Tools that offer pragmatic solutions to day-to-day challenges should be explored